UPSC IAS Mains Preparation Strategy for Mechanical Engineering Optional

In UPSC IAS Mains, engineering subjects are also offered as an optional paper keeping in mind the number of engineers who apply for these posts every year. One such subject is mechanical engineering. These are among the most specialized subjects which you can choose only if you are a graduate in it. Without prior exposure to the subject, it will be impossible to comprehend and complete the UPSC CSE Mains optional paper syllabus for mechanical engineering. There are less than a hundred candidates every year who opt for mechanical engineering, this shows that many engineering students applying for UPSC IAS opt for other subjects as their optional. However, this does not necessarily mean that it is a difficult or wrong choice. How well you can manage the syllabus of mechanical engineering and prepare it depends entirely on the candidates’ aptitude for the subject. In this post we have shared preparation tips for this optional subject so that you can make the most of the available time.

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Pros and Cons of Mechanical Engineering optional in UPSC IAS

There are several advantages and disadvantages of choosing any optional subject. It is important to consider all these factors so that you can have a smart preparation plan rather than working hard for months. The following are pros and cons of choosing mechanical engineering that must be remembered.

Pros of mechanical engineering

  • If you had studied the subject for four years in your college, you are likely to have covered the syllabus already and hence do not have to study the subject from scratch.
  • Compared to other branches of engineering, mechanical engineering is more scoring and the pass percentage is much higher among candidates who chose this specific stream of engineering.
  • No candidate chooses this subject unless they know they have a certain level of expertise in it. This can also work at their advantage.
  • Justifying your choice of optional during the interview is much easier since you already know why you are opting for such a specialised subject.
  • The subject is conception based and hence you do not have to mug up any part of the syllabus.
  • Since it is a logic based science subject, there are definite answers for the questions and nothing is left to the interpretation of the examiner.
  • Assessing your performance is much easier since it is a technical subject.
  • You can also take the IES exam alongside IAS as this optional will help in preparation for both.
  • Many questions are repeated from the previous years and most of the questions are straightforward without any ambiguity.

Cons of mechanical engineering

  • The syllabus is very big and draining which means it will be time consuming to prepare.
  • It does not coincide at all with the rest of the papers and prelims preparation.
  • The subject is very tough, specifically for candidates who are not in touch with regular studies for a long time. This means, even if you are a mechanical engineering graduate, chances of cracking the syllabus becomes limited because of your lack of practice.


Who should choose mechanical engineering?

Only graduates and postgraduates in mechanical engineering should choose this subject as it is a much specialised subject. Moreover, the syllabus is vast and totally relevant to the graduation level syllabus of mechanical engineering which means, candidates with no prior exposure to the subject will not be able to grasp the syllabus.

UPSC IAS Mains Mechanical engineering optional syllabus

The syllabus for both the papers is rather huge and very detail oriented which means, you cannot leave out any of the sections. We have made a gist of the syllabus paper-wise so that you have a better idea about the topics you have to deal with-


  • Mechanics
    • Mechanics of rigid bodies- kinematics of particles, particle dynamics, first and second moments of areas
    • Mechanics of deformable bodies- generalized Hooke’s Law and its application, different types of stresses, dynamic load etc.
  • Engineering materials
  • Theories of machines
  • Manufacturing science
    • Manufacturing process
    • Manufacturing management

Paper- II

  • Thermodynamics, gas dynamics and turbine
    • basic concept of first and second law of thermodynamics
    • classifications and fluid properties
    • flow through fans, blowers and compressors
  • Heat transfer
    • conduction heat transfer
    • convection heat transfer
    • black body radiation
    • basic heat exchanger
  • I.C. engines
    • Classification, thermodynamic cycles of operation
    • Combustion of SI and CI engines
    • Different types of IC engines
  • Refrigeration and Air Conditioning
  • Steam engineering

Best reference books for UPSC IAS Mains mechanical engineering optional

The following are the best books that you can choose from for the mechanical engineering optional. A few books which cover the entire syllabus of paper-I and II are good enough to plan a preparation strategy in an organized manner-

  • Strength of Materials by Sadhu Singh
  • Theory of Machines by RS Khurmi
  • Refrigeration and Air-conditioning by RS Khurmi
  • Operations Research by Hira and Gupta
  • Engineering Thermodynamics by PK Nag
  • Plant Engineering by PK Nag
  • Fundamentals of Compressible Flow by SM Yahya
  • Thermal Engineering by RK Rajput
  • Heat and Mass Transfer by DS Kumar
  • Internal Combustion Engines by V Ganesan
  • Production Management – R K Jain
  • Heat Transfer – Gupta Prakash
  • Heat and Mass Transfer – R. Yadav
  • Surveying and Levelling – T P Kanetkar
  • Heat Conversion – Arora & Kundwar
  • Fundamentals of Classed Thermodynamics – Van Wylen
  • Thermodynamics – R Yadav
  • Heat Conversion – Arora and Kundwar
  • Heat Transfer – Gupta Prakash
  • Theory of Mechanism and Mechanics – Jagdish Lal
  • Principles of Manufacturing Material & Process – Campbell
  • Mechanic of Solids – Popru
  • Environmental Pollution Central Engineering-C S Rao
  • Energy Conversion – Sukhalmoy
  • Surveying and Levelling – T P Kanetkar
  • Manufacturing Science – Ghosh and Malik

Generic tips for Mechanical engineering optional preparation

In order to ace the mechanical engineering optional paper, here are a few tips from toppers which will help you to strategize your preparation better:

  • Go through the previous year’s question papers to understand the pattern of question asked every year so that you can make a study table accordingly.
  • Particularly pay attention to preparing the theories which is the basis of your understanding of the subject. When you have a clear conception about the theories, you can prepare for the exam better.
  • Start with practicing the solved examples first so that you can refer every step of the sums and understand it. After this, try solving entirely new sums and previous year questions following the method you learned from practising the solved examples.
  • Practise test series and enroll for mock tests to develop a habit of solving the paper in an exam set-up.
  • Complete the syllabus as fast as you can so that you have time for multiple revisions. To master all the concepts and theories, you must revise the chapters as many times as you can. Also make notes in the process so that you have concise materials to revise right before the exam.
  • Make a habit of drawing diagrams and charts to enrich your answer wherever applicable. This habit will make your answer more appealing and well-written to the examiners, and you will stand a chance of scoring better marks.
  • Create separate notes containing all the formulas and derivations related to the chapters. This way, you can find them out easily and last minute revisions will become much easier.
  • Research online for relevant video tutorials and even articles and notes so that you can prepare on the go- digital notes and resources can be accessed whenever you need to and hence you can study from anywhere.
  • Use sticky notes which should contain important points that you have difficulty in remembering and use them as markers for pages where you have made more elaborate notes on the same topic. Finding what you need becomes much easier in the last moment when you create notes this way.
  • Make sure that the first question you are attempting during the exam is written very precisely and answered correctly as it creates an impression on the examiner which can affect how he or she evaluates the rest of the paper.
  • Develop a habit of highlighting important sub-points and important sections of your answer which makes the answer easier to read for the examiner and also creates a positive impression about your skills and methods.

Topic-wise tips for mechanical engineering optional preparation

Each chapter you need to study will require a different approach and we have created a chapter-wise preparation tips for the same, which is as follows-


  • Mechanics-
    • NPTEL website is a good source for lectures on rigid mechanics. Try practising previous year questions from this chapter as they often get repeated.
    • Strength of materials by Sadhu Singh discusses mechanics of deformable bodies in detail and is the only reference you will need for understanding this section.
  • Engineering materials-
    • NPTEL website is a good source for this section too and you can also rely on Callister’s Material Science and Engineering.
  • Theory of machines
    • This is a very important chapter for paper-1 and all the sub-sections under this chapter are equally important.
    • Pay special attention to the numericals related to the different topics in this section.
    • Jigs and fixtures, manufacturing management, are important sections from this chapter.


  • Thermodynamics, gas dynamics and turbines
    • Thermodynamics is another very section and many questions come from this topic. Cover this entire section thoroughly. The best book to refer to is P.K. Nag. Specifically emphasis on the theories and practising the solved examples.
    • For the fluids section, check the parts which are in the IAS syllabus and study only those parts.
    • The sections on regeneration are also very important and thermal engineering by R.K. Rajput is a better book to follow only for these sections, compared to P.K. Nag.
  • Heat transfer
    • There are several formulas in this section which must be covered thoroughly as there are numericals that are very frequently asked from this chapter.
    • Practice all the types of numerical problems from different books for this chapter specifically.
  • I.C. engines
    • The concepts in this entire chapter should be covered thoroughly while referring to previous years’ question papers.
  • Refrigeration and Air conditioning
    • Psychometry is another topic from this section and can be covered from P.K. Nag. The other parts of the chapter can be covered from NPTEL Website and books by CP Arora and RS Khumri.
  • Steam Engineering
    • Again, the conceis chapters are more important and can be covered from Power Plant Engineering by P.K. Nag.

Mechanical engineering is a highly specialized subject and an unconventional choice for UPSC IAS mains. More students who choose it are already confident about their grasp on the subject. But still a little bit of guidance is essential for all too smartly strategizing their study plan. If you dedicate 4-5months and 12 hours on an average every week, you can finish the entire syllabus and be confident about your preparation. We hope you found the tips helpful and can implement them in your study plan.

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